Archives For Death

It has been said that age is but a number. That we are only as old as we feel. “As a man thinketh,” etc.

There is a certain truth to this. And having a positive outlook certainly has benefits. In this sense, age is just a number.

But aging is cold, hard fact. I first became cognizant of this in my late twenties: a few of the whiskers in my beard took the inexorable spin on the color wheel to gray.

But I didn’t feel any older. (The gray has since spread like a disease, slowly making its way from the center of my chin up the sides of my face).

A little later, the early thirties, my metabolism showed signs of decline: I could no longer eat what I wanted without consequence.

And then one morning I awoke to find that, while they never had before, consuming too many sweets precipitated nausea. It was around this same time I discovered that any amusement park rides which involved spinning introduced a rather greenish cast in my otherwise lily white skin.

The late thirties brought with them: bladder problems, sleep apnea, and hypothyroidism. All treatable, but all nevertheless leaving me (subjectively) feeling much older than I ever had.

The last several years have been a time of transition, evolution, and entropy:

I’m objectively, quantifibly becoming something: older.

My body is evolving (or devolving) as time goes on (evolution=change over time).

And I’m slowing down. Entropy–the second law of thermodynamics. “Things wear out, the center cannot hold…”

Just at the time when things are heating up professionally, and personally, my get up and go has got up and went. I have ideas, but no stamina to execute on them. Such cruel irony.

My son recently asked if I wanted to live forever. My reply? In this body? God, I hope not. I want an upgrade! I want one that doesn’t get weary, one that doesn’t have sleep apnea, one that doesn’t have upper eyelids that are puffy and drooping.

I want an upgrade.

Thankfully, one is coming. It’s only requirement is that I die. That’s the deal: birth requires some kind of death. Sperm cells and ovum, once united, are no longer what they were–have in fact died to their old natures to bring forth be life. So it is with the Christian: “though the outer man is perishing, the inner man is being renewed day by day.”

So in the meantime, between now and when God calls me home, I will practice the only death afforded me:

Death to self. Pressing on in spite of life’s hardship and frailties. Trusting that what He says is true. And I’d like to think that, because I need it so much more, I understand grace just a little bit better. His grace suffices, and I fall upon it everyday. I fall, and He makes me to stand.

I can–because He did, and does.

I’m not too old, too busy, or too tired to dream. Sure, I’m older, and my body is (as is yours) marching towards decay, I’m not dead yet.

And neither are you.

Let’s choose to die daily to the desire to give up, to throw in the towel.

A story is written one word at a time–line upon line. Likewise, a painting is made one brush stroke at a time. Weight is lost one pound at a time, walking happens one step at a time…

Dreams are achieved when all the small steps we take are added together into a new whole. We can do hard things.

So take the next step, my friends. There is always grace sufficient for that. We can do it.

In Romans seven, the Apostle Paul writes much of the opposing laws which are at work in his members (his body and spirit). That in his mind he wishes to obey the law of God, but finds a different law at work in his body: that of sin and death. What he would, he does not; what he would not, that he does.

He ends the chapter with a lament:

“Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”

From history, we’re told that this metaphor had its basis in fact: one of the crueller forms of execution was to lash a corpse to the condemned, exile them, and allow them to be slowly killed by the putrefaction of the corpse.

Give me a quick, clean death, folks.

Yet for most of us, it doesn’t happen this way: we are born dead, and continue to slowly die by degrees. Until our flesh dies indeed. Thence to stand before God, making an account of our deeds.

Those of us who, like Paul before us, are believers, are in a sense bipolar: we are alive in spirit, but still carrying around our dead flesh. We are a people of dualing natures. Like Paul, we want to obey God; like him, we do the things we would not. Having walked with God for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, or more, our flesh is no more sanctified than a mere babe in Christ’s.

But really the battle is not in the flesh, rather in the mind. The mind is the battleground, where the unholy three wage tireless war against us:

The world, the flesh, and the devil.

Assaults on our bodies drag our minds down, making us more likely to succumb to temptation. Likewise, pleasure sings its siren song–promising succor, rest, but delivering instead death. And old slewfoot (the devil) whispers in ways th only he can, telling us we deserve, or need, want, or are owed…

But it’s a lie.

What we deserve is death. Christ for our sins was crucified, the righteous for the unrighteous, paying a debt he did not owe. One which we could not pay. In his mercy, God provided the way of atonement.

It is a narrow path, fraught with both victories, and setbacks. Still his love covers a multitude of sins, and his grace is sufficient. When we are weak, we are strong: for his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

For myself, if I’ve learned anything from my wife’s illness it’s how very weak, and frail, I am. How in my impotency and powerlessness I’m so quick to seek succor in escape (reading, television, liquor) rather than at the feet of my Lord.

“Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God! Through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

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When it comes to Heaven, I’m a both/and kind of guy. By that I mean that it’s both a place to go when we die, and something we can help usher in here, now, today. How so, you say? In this way:

If we are in Jesus, we are his ambassadors–representives of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to make both a better here–and hereafter. As it says in James chapter one, “Pure religion, and undefiled, in the sight of God the Father is visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Jesus says, bluntly, that to have done it unto the least of these is to have done it unto him.

That is bringing heaven to earth.

Meeting the needs we’ve been equipped to meet, putting ourselves out there, sacrificing. That’s what Jesus did, and we are to go and do likewise.

Be that as it may, Heaven I believe is also a place. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, walked with God, and was taken. Was he taken to Hell? I don’t think so. Elijah likewise was taken up in a chariot. Lazarus was consoled at Abraham’s bosom.

Jesus told the thief “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” And forty days after his resurrection, Christ himself ascended to somewhere outside of our space/time continuum. Not to mention the fact he told his disciples, and by extension us, that he went to prepare a place.

That where he was we would be also.

Moreover, the Apostle Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) wrote of a man caught up to the third heaven, seeing things it wasn’t lawful to convey. Beyond that, there’s the entirety of the Book of Revelation, with its descriptions of streets of gold, gates of pearl…

But far more meaningful to me is the passage which tells us that God shall wipe every tear from our eyes, that death shall be no more.

Which we most emphatically do not see here and now.

While we should indeed do all that we can to make this earth more like heaven now, the Scriptures plainly state that heaven–the place Jesus ascended to, without death, where his Father is–is coming to earth someday.

God will make all things new.

Will you join me in shouting “Hallelujah?”
So let’s do both, shall we? Inaugurate God’s kingdom here and now, and bring as many with us as we can when we go?
What do you say?

In the wake of tragedies such as the shooting yesterday in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, people will ask the inevitable question:

Where was God? The answer is that he is the same place he has always been: on his throne. Objections will be raised: God could have, should have, or…

Some will conclude there is no God. Some will conclude that he is powerless to act. Neither is true.

But the fact is that now is not the time for theological speculation.

Now is the time grieve, to be present with the bereft, to offer not a word, but arms.

As the Bible says: “Weep with those that weep…”

In time, healing will come (though life will never be the same). But right now, parents of surviving children are having conversations they should not need to have. Yet other parents are standing in the doorways of empty bedrooms wishing for one more night of:

“I can’t sleep.”

“I’m thirsty.”

“Read me a story.”

But the silence is deafening, a roaring in their ears, and in their hearts. Because these parents will never again hear those things, and are instead standing in the doorways of empty bedrooms contemplating funerals.

Those parents deserve our respect–and our silence. Now is not the time to push agendas–political, theological, or otherwise. Now is the time to weep, to be Christ’s hands and feet.

It is a time pray, to reflect, and hold our loved ones all the closer. For as John Donne said: “Do not sent to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

The less of this, or any tragedy, is that life–not even young life–is not guaranteed.

But it is a gift. A gift which must be mourned when it is lost. Telling to me is that, before raising Lazarus, Jesus wept.

And if he wept, knowing what was to shortly come, how much more us?

Someday death will be swallowed up in final victory. Someday the faith shall be made sight.

But today is not that day.

Today we grieve. We grieve, and we remember.

God give us the grace to someday, somehow, heal.

I can’t say I remember this, but as a toddler I wandered from our home near Lake Erie, and was found near the cliffs overlooking the shore. I don’t know why, or what I was looking for. I’m, fairly certain this wasn’t too good for my parents’ cardiac heath.

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A little later on, a beloved neighbor–called the “can man,” because he had a shoot under his kitchen sink which deposited beer cans directly into a barrel his garage–passed away. My parents took me to the funeral. I’m almost certain this was my first exposure to death. I couldn’t have been more than four, or five. One or both of them encouraged me to see the Can Man’s body for myself. I don’t remember being afraid, per se. I had been watching him for awhile, and he hadn’t moved–not even a little bit.

So I walked up to him in his casket just to take a peek. I don’t know why I did what I did next: I touched him.

He didn’t try to eat me, but he was cold. Cold, and felt for all the world like a mannequin.

I wasn’t scared until right then. Nobody told me death was so cold.

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As a teen, my dad bought me Stephen Kings’s IT for Christmas one year. Being that I was 17, or 18, at the time, I got my own bed. In the basement of my dad’s house (my brother and I visited twice a year). I was up late reading on that cold Colorado winter night. I don’t recall being particularly afraid.

Then the lone bulb, dangling as it was from a beam in the unfinished ceiling, burnt out. I lay back, immobilized by a sudden paralysis. Inky darkness floated all around me.

Sleep was a long time coming.

What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you?